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Witch-hazel (Hamamelis, //) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelidaceae, with three species in North America (H. ovalis, H. virginiana and H. vernalis), and one each in Japan (H. japonica) and China (H. mollis). The North American species are occasionally called winterbloom.
The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 3–8 metres (9.8–26.2 ft) tall, rarely to 12 metres (39 ft) tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, oval, 4–16 centimetres (1.6–6.3 in) long and 3–11 centimetres (1.2–4.3 in) broad, with a smooth or wavy margin. The genus name, Hamamelis, means "together with fruit", referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. H. virginiana blooms in September-November while the other species bloom from January-March. Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals 1–2 centimetres (0.39–0.79 in) long, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 1 centimetre (0.39 in) long, containing a single 5 millimetres (0.20 in) glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 10 metres (33 ft), thus another alternative name "Snapping Hazel".
The name Witch in witch-hazel has its origins in Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning "pliant" or "bendable". "Witch hazel" was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra; American colonists simply extended the familiar name to the new shrub. The use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England, may also have, by folk etymology, influenced the "witch" part of the name.
The Persian Ironwood, a closely related tree formerly treated as Hamamelis persica, is now given a genus of its own, as Parrotia persica, as it differs in the flowers not having petals. Other closely allied genera are Parrotiopsis, Fothergilla and Sycopsis (see under Hamamelidaceae). Witch-hazels are not closely related to the true Corylus hazels, though they have a few superficially similar characteristics which may cause one to believe that they are.
Cultivation and uses
They are popular ornamental plants, grown for their clusters of rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to expand in the autumn as or slightly before the leaves fall, and continue throughout the winter.
Hamamelis virginiana was introduced into English gardens by Peter Collinson, who maintained correspondence with plant hunters in the American colonies. Nowadays, it is rarely seen in the nursery trade except for woodland/wildlife restoration projects and native plant enthusiasts. Much more common is H. mollis, which has bright red flowers that bloom in late winter instead of the yellow blossoms of H. virginiana which tend to be lost among the plant's fall foliage. The plant-hunter Charles Maries collected for Veitch Nurseries in the Chinese district of Jiujiang in 1879. It languished in nursery rows for years until it was noticed, propagated and put on the market in 1902. Numerous cultivars have been selected for use as garden shrubs, many of them derived from the hybrid H. × intermedia Rehder (H. japonica × H. mollis). Jelena and Robert de Belder of Arboretum Kalmthout, selecting for red cultivars, found three: the first, with bronze flowers, was named 'Jelena'; the next, with red flowers, was named 'Diane' (the name of their daughter); the last, with deep red flowers, was called 'Livia' (the name of their granddaughter).
The leaves and bark of the North American Witch-hazel Hamamelis virginiana may be used to produce an astringent, also referred to as witch hazel, and is used medicinally. This plant extract was widely used for medicinal purposes by American Indians and is a component of a variety of commercial healthcare products.
It's mainly used externally on sores, bruises, and swelling. Witch hazel hydrosol is used in skin care. It is a strong anti-oxidant and astringent. It is often used as a natural remedy for psoriasis, eczema, aftershave applications, ingrown nails, to prevent sweating of the face, cracked or blistered skin, for treating insect bites, poison ivy, and as a treatment for varicose veins and hemorrhoids. It is found in numerous over-the-counter hemorrhoid preparations. It is recommended to women to reduce swelling and soothe wounds resulting from childbirth.
- Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- Hamamelis ovalis S. W. Leonard (2006), GRIN Taxonomy for Plants
- Noted in Ernest Thompson Seton, The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (1921:422), but rare.
- http://www.witchhazel.com/about.htm Dickinson's Witch Hazel, commercially available witch hazel-based products
- Hiker's Notebook: Witch Hazel
- Douglas Harper (2001). "witch hazel". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- First occurrence 1541 (OED, s.v. "Witch hazel").
- Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Hamamelis".
- Steven Foster, Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Article and Photos, Steven Foster Group], retrieved April 14, 2012
- Witch Hazel Overview Information, WebMD, accessed April 14, 2012
- Michael C. Bingham, Which Witch Is Witch Hazel (and Which Dickinson Makes It)?, Connecticut Business Journal, 20 October 1997.
- "Postpartum care: After a vaginal delivery". MayoClinic.com. 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
- Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan.
- Fergus, Charles (2002). Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Stackpole Books. pp. 156–9. ISBN 0-8117-2092-6.
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